The Vikings have submitted their Thursday injury report, with no changes from yesterday’s report.
The Lions, however, did have some changes. Starting LBs Larry Foote (knee) and Ernie Sims (hamstring) didn’t practice for the 2nd straight day and you wonder if they’ll be able to suit up for Detroit on Sunday. Also, DT Grady Jackson (knee) didn’t practice, but that might be a case of resting a veteran player at the midway point of the season; Jackson was limited yesterday.
QB Matthew Stafford (knee) was limited again and WR Calvin Johnson (knee) practiced in full.
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You might think a 7-1 team coming off a bye and with a 3-game lead in its division might overlook a 1-7 opponent it had already beaten once during the season. But judging by the comments from Winter Park today, especially those from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, the Vikings don’t appear to be falling into that trap.
On paper the Vikings-Lions matchup is more like a mismatch. But anyone who has watched this series lately knows the games tend to be close. The Vikings have dominated in the win column against Detroit in recent seasons, but most of those wins haven’t come easy. Even this year the Lions led Minnesota at halftime before the Vikings eventually pulled away and won by 14.
“Every time we’ve played Detroit, it’s been a dogfight,” Bevell said to reporters on Thursday. “Because obviously they’re a divisional opponent; we know each other in and out. We know personnel in and out. Any time you play division (opponent), I know it’s cliché to say, you really have to throw out the records and you have to bring your ‘A’ game.”
Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said yesterday that he’s noted how hard the Lions are playing for new head coach Jim Schwartz. Bevell issued a similar sentiment when discussing the Vikings opponent this week.
“The one thing you can say about Detroit is they’re playing hard,” Bevell explained. “He’s (Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz) got them flying around, particularly on defense. They’re tackling the ball well. I think they’re doing some good things, just not getting the end result that they’re looking for.”
Because the Vikings have a solid group of veterans leading the team, it would be a surprise to see them come out on Sunday without focus. Many of the Vikings core players have been through bye weeks before and rise to the challenge of regaining mid-season form immediately after a bye.
Increasing the likelihood that the Vikings will be sharp in their 1st game back from the bye is the fact that the coaching staff seems determined to not allow their players to overlook this particular 1-7 team.
“You have to make sure the guys are prepared; that they’re ready; that they know what they’re going to see,” Bevell insisted. “And they have to make sure that we play at an intensity level that they’re unwilling to match. We can’t say ‘hey, we have to play up to theirs.’ We have to set it and make them play at ours.”
Tags: Darrell Bevell
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Detroit Head Coach Jim Schwartz has a difficult task on his hands – change the culture around the Lions organization. The Lions are less than one season removed from a 0-16 campaign and Schwartz is charged with steering the club in the right direction.
Schwartz’ counterpart this weekend – Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress – is familiar with the challenge. When Childress took over in 2006, he, too, was charged with changing the culture and returning his club to its winning ways.
Childress’ team this season is 7-1, and although he’s going up against a squad that sits at 1-7, the Vikings head coach wasn’t dismissive of this week’s opponent.
“Again, what you do is you see a guy getting guys to play hard,” Childress said of Schwartz’ coaching effort to this point. “That’s the thing that got you in the beginning of that Seattle game. All of the sudden it’s 17-0 and they’re gripping and they had a chance to win it at 25-20 at the end. I’ve made allusions about how they are coming here.”
Schwartz, however, isn’t content to see his guys just playing hard or showing improvement. He told Twin Cities reporters yesterday in a conference call that winning is what matters.
“Obviously we didn’t start the way we wanted, being 1-7,” the Lions coach said. “We have had our ups and downs. I think that more than anything we have been an inconsistent team. We haven’t been a bad team. We haven’t been a good team. We have been an inconsistent team and I would like to see consistency over the second half of the year. We need that consistency to translate to wins.”
Working against Schwartz and his quest to change the culture in Detroit and develop consistency has been injuries to young, core players. First round draft pick and QB Matthew Stafford earned the starting job in Week 1 and seemed to be putting everything together by Week 3 when he led the Lions to their 1st victory in over a year.
But then a week later at Chicago he suffered a knee injury and was forced to miss 2 full games.
“It definitely set him back,” Schwartz said of the injury. “He was on a good roll. We had beat Washington, went up in the first half and put 21 (points) on the Bears in the first half. Then (we) got behind in that game where they returned a kick for a touchdown on the first play of the second half and then we got behind them. Then he got hurt.”
And Schwartz also pointed out that Stafford wasn’t the only young player forced to deal with injury. Star WR Calvin Johnson, who had 5 grabs and 1 TD against the Vikings in Week 2, has also missed 2 games with a knee injury.
“Really, if you look at our skill guys, it’s not just Matt (that has been hurt),” Schwartz explained. “Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith, really the last time all three of them were 100 percent healthy on the field at the same time was our win over the Redskins. When you have young players like that, you need them to play together. You need that kind of continuity.”
But just as (poor) health was working against Schwartz and the Lions earlier this season, it will be (good) health that will lead to improvement, and eventually wins, as their season continues.
“They all are on the road to being healthy,” Schwartz said. “They’re all not 100 percent there yet. The more those guys get on the field together, the better it will be.”
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The Vikings ability to execute an efficient and productive passing attack in 2009 is the function of several factors coming together simultaneously – a sound running game, good pass protection, the emergence of WR Sidney Rice, etc.
But, ultimately, the bookends behind the Vikings productive passing game this season have been 2 players who are in contrasting stages of their careers. QB Brett Favre, the NFL’s 2nd-rated passer, is a 19-year veteran. And his most electric target is Percy Harvin, the Vikings most recent 1st round pick.
Through the first 8 games of 2009, Harvin has been one of Favre’s most reliable targets. He’s 2nd on the team in receptions with 28 and he also leads the team and is 6th in the NFL in 3rd down receptions with 15. In fact, 60% of Harvin’s receptions and 1 of his 3 receiving TDs have come on 3rd down.
The difference in their experience level set aside, it’s clear Favre and Harvin have developed a rapport.
“Well, if you play long enough you get to a point where you don’t see, ‘rookie,’ (or) ’14-year veteran.’ You don’t see those. You just see ‘player,’” Favre said. “It doesn’t take long to figure out Percy Harvin can play. It didn’t take me long.”
While speaking with reporters at Winter Park on Wednesday, Favre said he had heard about Harvin before he signed with the Vikings. But once he joined the Vikings and saw the dynamic playmaker in person, Favre knew Harvin was a special player.
“Once I got a chance to see him in person, it didn’t take long to say, ‘This guy’s pretty good.’ I told him from day one, ‘Hey, you’re not a rookie. Don’t play like it. Don’t buy into that, ‘he’s going to make rookie mistakes,’ because I don’t. I don’t buy into it.’”
In addition to speed, elusiveness and ability to break tackles, Favre pointed out that Harvin has a “sixth sense’ as well, and all of those traits coming together are what have allowed Harvin to be this impactful.
Favre even pointed to players such as Harvin as reasons why his interception total this year is lower. He cited the 51-yard TD pass he had to Harvin at Lambeau Field as an example.
“The decision to throw the ball down the middle to Percy last week against Green Bay was not the best of decisions,” Favre acknowledged. “It was good initially, but I was kind of late throwing it down there. I thought when I let it go that I was going to allow the safeties (to close on the ball), which I did. It’s just kind of freaky how it turned out. Percy made me look good and turned what could have been a bad decision into a great play.
“It’s been outstanding efforts from all of our guys, but Percy is the real deal.”
Tags: Percy Harvin
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